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ITIL and ITSM are the foundations upon which “Cloud Computing” is built.

Author: Eric Ledyard

Today, most people in the IT community hear the word “cloud” and have a reaction similar to drinking bad milk. Through the last few years of every company abusing the word for the purposes of marketing, the true meaning of the movement has been lost, or at least severely diluted. We in the VMware Vision team are not afraid to use the “c-word” and spend each and every day helping advise strategic companies how they can increase the “cloudiness” of their environment. The end goal of each engagement is to increase the agility, efficiency, and manageability of their IT organization and allow them to provide better IT services to their organizations.

So, what does “cloud computing” mean to us?

Because of the dilution of the term, the best way for us to explain what we feel are the core pillars of cloud are is to explain where the movement came from and what the purpose of it is. As an evolutionary term, cloud computing represents the “end-game” for building an IT infrastructure utilizing all the concepts laid out in the ITIL and by implementing an operational IT organization that is focused on the ITSM model. The primary difference that is difficult for most organizations to tackle is that a “cloud environment” is an environment where the IT organization is no longer a cost center but is truly an internal services provider to the company. In each of our engagements, this is the first step to making an organization more cloud-like. Everyone tends to jump to the thought that cloud computing means you must outsource your environment to a third-party cloud provider. That thought process is completely backwards when held against the ITSM model. You wouldn’t start a project by saying: “Whatever application this is, it doesn’t matter, we are putting it on a 1U pizza box server.” This is the same as saying: “To get to cloud, everything has to be on Amazon or Google.” Not true at all. Cloud computing is a method of computing, not a place.

For those of you that may not be completely up to speed on ITIL or the ITSM model, the short summary is that in order to provide services to the business that are meaningful and impactful, you need to be completely aligned to the line-of-business (LOB) owners from the start. Once you are aligned with the business owners it becomes much easier to build an infrastructure to provide tailored services to them. In the ITSM model, the processes by which services are requested and provisioned need to be tightly aligned to the business. Many IT organizations receive a request today to provide infrastructure and they react by purchasing and deploying additional technology based loosely on some requirements that are provided by the application team. In order to be a true service provider, there needs to be a process that provides alignment of the business owners to the IT platform owners. This is outlined in the following diagram:

ITSM

As you can see in the diagram above, technology platform is the last piece of the puzzle that needs to be addressed. Prior to any purchase or implementation of a ‘product’ whether it be software, hardware, etc, all of the previous pieces of the ITSM model need to be addressed. The thought process needs to change to more deeply understand how the technology impacts the organization and what level of service needs to be provided to that service in order to best serve the organization overall. Working with organizations for years now on disaster recovery, every client I talk to doesn’t have a good understanding from the business on what the SLA’s for recovery need to be for the applications they support. What IT should do is start by building a service catalog of IT services that support the business.

For each service, we need to understand how it ties back to “the big picture” and how that service is used to help the business meet its objectives and strategic goals. For example, there was a story that I was told about a logistics company that when a new CIO came into the organization that was familiar with ITSM, she asked one of the Sr. Systems Engineers on her team: “Do you know what the impact is to the business if the picker application goes down for even 2 hours?” The engineer looked at her and explained that it would mean the warehouses wouldn’t be able to pick orders for a couple hours… no big deal… and explained that a 4-hour RTO should be fine. Immediately, she booked him travel to visit one of their largest warehouse facilities and had him interview the people that worked on the floor in the warehouse. Once he was there, the foreman explained to him that if the picker system goes down for 2 hours and they are not able to fill the trucks that the trucks start lining up outside waiting… putting them each 2 hours behind. Also, some of the carriers were union carriers, so if the truck didn’t get loaded by the end of their 10-hour shift, they would shut the truck off and go home for the day… which would mean tomorrow morning before they could ship any of that day’s orders they had to first work to fill the trucks that didn’t get done the night before. Hopefully, that didn’t cascade into them not being able to ship out that day’s orders… and on and on. When the SE returned home, he immediately told the CIO that the picker application, an application he had said was non-mission critical only days before, was now one of the most important applications the company had and that they needed to work to provide a higher level of redundancy and SLA for that app.

In a cloud environment, both internal and external, the same pragmatism needs to take place whenever a new product is deployed or an old product is brought into the cloud. When building the service catalog, it is imperative that each application be looked at and understood for how it fits into the organizational goals, then there needs to be understanding from the line of business owners and IT on what business process are used to meet those goals, then on what IT services those business processes rely on, then on what service levels need to be met in order for those services to be maintained, and finally what technologies need to be in place to provide the execution of the service levels. Once you have a fully functional service catalog you are well on your way to having a cloud environment. Then, it will also be possible to determine if you have the ability to leverage third-party cloud providers or if you need to keep your cloud internal in order to meet the service needs of the organization.